Today marks my third soberversary! WOAH.

(Note: you can read last years soberversary post here, and my first one here)

It has been 1,095 days since I stopped conveniently excusing my thoughts, my words, and my actions. It has been three years of conscious self-reflection. Three years of rewriting my story to make the part where I was an lost little drunken fool fit in.

Today is my third sober birthday, and I am damn proud of me.  Conversely, I feel a need to self-deprecate a bit, since our culture finds shame in self-celebration, so I ground my little party balloon by pondering improvements.

Every year on new years, I (like a few million other Americans) set a resolution for myself. Something completely achievable, but not necessarily simple. I suppose 8 months out, on this particular day of personal celebration, is a fair time to analyze my success; if any.

My 2012 resolution was: Question your true motives.

This has actually been a bit of a theme since I quit drinking. After years of drowning all negative skeptical emotions in whiskey, hiding behind a partygirl persona; getting to know yourself is actually really fucking hard. All the standard existential questions apply, times a thousand: WHO AM I??? WHAT DO I WANT?? WHAT AM I EVEN DOING AND WHY???

I’ve said before that I spent the first 6 months without booze in a cocoon, which helped me get my bearings. I sorted through a lot of that maudlin loathing, and learning to love myself (ick. Cliche alert). This year I decided to take it to the next level by getting into my own head.

oh, thats a face.

Truth be told, the most challenging part of sobriety has been interpersonal relationships– learning to socialize without imbibing, and learning to communicate without emotionally dumping, then apologizing the next day “for whatever I said.”  The challenge has lain in finding self-control, patience, and perspective when dealing with others. And to do all this, I have had to take a long, hard look at the things that motivate me.

As a drinker, anyone who knew me will agree, I was rash, impulsive, and unwilling to negotiate. In sobriety, I have found that those qualities cannot be attributed to alcohol alone. It’s hard not to fall back into a depressive mindset when you realize you can be a total asshole sometimes without even knowing it. In 2012, I resolved to be more honest with myself about why I behave the way I do, and I’ve so far concluded only that we humans are petty, silly creatures.

Or maybe it’s just me! I don’t know…

A lot of the time, I find that my root motivators are selfish. My mind wants to act out of desire for personal gain, and react to envy. Which is the worst kind of emotion. I don’t understand WHY. It would be easy to blame corporate capitalist culture, to point fingers at consumerism and society’s emphasis on status. To say I was indoctrinated with the mindset of self-interest from birth, led by a carrot-on-a-stick toward the idea that I always deserve more. But I think that misses the point; and anyhow, becomes irrelevant because, the more you think about things, the more cyclical they become. At the end of the day, it’s not just me, but 7 billion+ humans acting in their own best interests.

So then I hit this catch-22. Where does self-preservation end, and self-interest begin? In the first world, it’s not realistic to say that food and shelter are our only survival requirements. Maslow’s hierarchy confirms, feeling whole in this society means one is physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially content. On any given day, I would say I’m between 60 and 90 percent there.

Now I am splitting my deeper desires into “wants” and “needs,” it becomes confusing which is which. It’s everyone in competition, so why not get your slice (or 5) of the pie? And then you look around you, and there are all these people with what you perceive as more than what you have. Before you can stop yourself, you’re wondering which of you is really more deserving.

This is when I start to feel like a guilty jerk again. Jealousy is so hard to free your mind from, it grabs hold and gnaws at the frontal cortex. It becomes a motivator, much like one of those parasites that makes snails into suicidal zombies. All of a sudden, you’re in the middle of plotting a bank robbery, and you’re like “wait, why?” Because I need a private jet and my own island nation?

No!

So, I’m working on it. I’m getting better at checking my true motives, and curbing myself when I recognize that I am acting out of envy, rather than self-preservation. I think that’s the best one can do, apart from becoming a cave-dwelling buddhist monk. I’m realizing that life is a constant state of negotiating my “needs” with the “needs” of others, and learning to not get so offended when my toes get stepped on. Sometimes, your lines in the sand need to be just that– arbitrary and moveable. Sometimes you need to compromise on your principles, and pick your battles. Sometimes you just need to stop being such an asshole.

Our lives are not as limited as we think they are; the world is a wonderfully weird place; consensual reality is significantly flawed; no institution can be trusted, but love does work; all things are possible; and we all could be happy and fulfilled if we only had the guts to be truly free and the wisdom to shrink our egos and quit taking ourselves so damn seriously.

[[TomRobbins.StillLifeWithWoodpecker]]

Smells Like Teen Spirit

September 13, 2011

When I was a teenager, I was angry. Even though I felt very special and unique at the time, I realize now that I was a less-than-impressive example of every teenager ever. Nobody understood me. I didn’t understand the world. Everybody sucked. Everything was all fucked up.

In adulthood, most of those feelings still reside within me. But now, I can’t get angry. Not the way I used to. It doesn’t manifest. I can’t just fly into a blind rage, shouting and punching and breaking things. I don’t have it in me, and I don’t know where it went.

These days, I experience a wide range of emotions– anger representing only a tiny fraction. Instead of just green and red, I operate within a whole spectrum of chartreuse and maroon feelings. I wade through this rainbow cacophony of emotions, perspectives, and events, attempting to sort out where in the void I am even standing. It’s nearly a miracle if I can use “sad” “angry” or “happy” as adjectives. Usually it all mixes into this ubiquitous tear-stained brown.

How are you feeling Kat? Real fucking confused, thank you.

More Than My Wine

August 17, 2011

(Sidenote: You can read last year’s “Soberversary” post Here)

Two years without booze. That’s two years of designated driving, two years of remembering every night, and two years of occasionally stopping and wondering: “WHO THE HELL IS THIS PERSON, anyway??”

When I quit drinking, exactly 730 days ago, I told myself and those around me “I definitely need a break.” Back then, I guess I would have labeled the decision as “long-overdue.” Now? Not sure there is such a thing.

I’m not one for religiosity, so I wouldn’t go so far as to call my wakeup a divine intervention, but I do firmly believe that my sobriety came in it’s due time. No late fees incurred, no interest accrued. It happened exactly how it needed to. It’s possible there’s even some mathematic explanation, the way theres math for gravity or gambling. Or perhaps there was some astrological tale of new beginnings written just for me by the larger members of the cosmos– planets and stars colliding, converging, aligning perfectly for a moment of profound influence on one tiny spirit within. Regardless, I’m grateful not only for my sobriety, but for every experience that got me here. Lost phones, loud fights, misdemeanors, hospital visits. All of it.

While I was drunk I may have said and done some stupid things; I may have hurt some people, including myself, along the way. But that’s life. With or without alcohol, shit happens, hearts break, the world moves along at a furious pace. I did some things while drinking that I would never have done sober, but just maybe all those things needed to be done. In retrospect, even the “bad” parts of our personal stories seem nostalgically accessible, don’t they?

People have a readiness to dismiss the past as gone, and to denounce who they were. I see this as a critical error in self-understanding. You can’t ever “become a different person.” You are you. You are who you have been. You are the owner of every decision made along the way. 

Like a matryoshka doll, one inside of the next, we become more intricate, complex, and spacious as we grow. But inside, there is always that teeny tiny, roughly painted little you– just as valuable as every other piece. Little matryoshka you might not be as richly detailed as the outer versions, but it doesn’t belong to anyone else, doesn’t complete any other set.

Although these days, the only cocktails I obsess over are fresh juice concoctions, the only going-wild I do is riding my bike without a helmet, and the only hangover I get is from refined sugars; I am still Kat. I didn’t wake up one day, quit drinking, and suddenly become a more socially apt person who fit into a much smaller pair of jeans. Personal evolution is work every single day. Emotional, physical, and spiritual effort. There is no “old Kat,” and the drunk asshole who used to put herself in dangerous and stupid situations: that was me, not some other person who I hardly know. Even if it feels like it.

I am everything I ever have been. My resume includes alcoholic– in big black comic sans font. There is no hiding or denying it. No putting it under a more subtle somber guise. Drunk Kat looked silly, and I need to remember that almost daily. For better or worse. Because I am that person as soon as I let myself be.

Cheers!

O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause transform ourselves into beasts! [[WilliamShakespeare.Othello]]

My Super Sweet 24th

November 30, 2010

This year, I awoke on my birthday from a bizarre recurring dream, quite literally on the wrong side of the bed. Cue the waterworks. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, after 24 Gregorian calendar years, this is the sort of very mature behavior I engage in. Throwing a tantrum in my jammies.

After scraping myself together, with a little help from the most wonderful gentleman a girl could ask for, I managed to get out of the funk and put on a smile. Thanksgiving dinner with my family and friends was mellow and nice, I got my gluttony on, and it didn’t snow– which is a rarity for the end of November ’round these parts.

Most people would probably consider this an acceptable birthday and call it quits; but not this girl. Not only did I close out the day with a good sob, but I, then, woke up in the middle of the night for an encore performance. Not just a couple tears, I’m talking full shudders.

(Yes. On Thanksgiving. I know, I should have been making lists of things I am grateful for, and counting my blessings, and all that.)

Every year, for as long as I can remember, I have cried on my birthday.

Why?

It’s a fair question. One that, until this year, I found myself at a loss for a sufficient answer to. Beyond the superficial triggers, I could only rationalize that some underlying cause was at work; making me feel much less than enthusiastic about my planetary anniversary. Naturally, I assumed it was my human perception of finite time making me nostalgic. Hence, the tears. Birthdays tend to highlight our status as mortal, and thereby fragile, beings.

Ah, yes, perhaps feeling Newtonian in spite of myself. But that sort of philosophical scapegoat never fit quite right. No matter how erudite this hypothesis makes me sound, the birthday tears seem to be caused by something much deeper than superego-fueled aesthetics.

A bit reluctantly, I turned to a more obvious culprit: the little Kat inside me who– even after almost a quarter century– wants her princess birthday. I concede that birthdays are generally underwhelming, and my inner child might have had difficulty coming to terms with this reality. Somewhere, deep inside, I want to wake up on my birthday and have it be the *most awesome day of my life* that it felt like once upon a time. Subconsciously struggling to recapture a feeling I haven’t been capable of since I was maybe 5 years old. A sense of inevitable disappointment 364 days in the making.

But blaming the Id part of myself for the tears didn’t feel right, either. Sure, I guess there is the “perfect” birthday, but I’m no stranger to reality– not any time of the year– November 25 doesn’t really come with much more expectation. What I felt wasn’t really “disappointment” as much as a general desire to absolutely, and inexplicably, bawl.

Some days later, having gotten over whatever trivial matters I let disturb me so, I came to the realization that maybe I cry on my birthdays just because… I can.

Is it “normal?” Or “uplifting?”

Who cares.

“Should” I be crying?

Who cares.

The bottom line is that celebrating our own life anniversaries is incredibly self-indulgent, no matter what. For me, weeping shamelessly seems to roll right into that. Impetus irrelevant.

Peculiar, maybe, but I don’t owe any apologies. With or without the tears, I am glad to be here– another year older, arguably wiser, and still waiting on the maturity I assumed I’d be handed when I “grew up.”

I never think of the future. It comes soon enough. [[AlbertEinstein]]

Are We There Yet?

November 12, 2010

Recently, feeling down on myself (bummed about the change of seasons and creatively frustrated, among other things), I sat down with a notepad for a bit of self-analysis.  My blank page immediately became–

Things that suck about you:

Good Qualities:

In that order. Just like that. And I started to fill it out.

The last time I made a list like this was when I quit drinking, which was definitely a low point for me. My sobriety list inspired a complete reorganization of my personal agenda. As a language-oriented person, as well as a brutally honest Sagittarius, I find it advantageous to put thoughts into words. Throughout the years, I’ve composed a number of these self-evaluations, and like to consider myself a pretty actualized individual.

All that said, one persistent trend– more important, in some ways, than the actual traits on the lists themselves– is that my negatives list consistently dwarfs the positives. No matter what. In fact, I even ran out of room under my “Things that suck about you” and began annexing the “Good Qualities” space for such traits as “Insistent,” “Brash,” and “Impatient.” I had well over a dozen bad qualities written before I even so much as considered penning a nice thing about myself.

Then it took me a minute. Maybe even two. Before I put down “OK Writer.” Yes, just OK. And another minute, maybe two, before I came up with “Nice rack.”

Honest to Icculus, people, the second “Good” thing I could come up with about myself is my breasts. Shame on me. For real.

So, I made this list. And I cried. But, to be fair, I was pretty depressed when I started the damn thing, I wasn’t really doing it for the uplift. As I re-read my carefully selected adjectives, I added “Harsh Critic” to the end of my “sucks” list. Then wrote it again at the end of my positives.

And then I got stuck.

Suddenly my cleverly divided list wasn’t so black and white anymore.

It dawned on me that the “uncensored opinions” from the “Things that suck about you” analysis were the same opinions that made me “always truthful,” which had seemed a Good Quality. The “over-analytical” negative trait, in another light, becomes “socially observant,” an aspect of myself that I embrace.

Well, shit, I thought to myself. Now what? My intention in compiling an evaluation had been enacting positive change. A year ago, I was incredibly productive using this method. I recognized a number of undesirable qualities and was able to eliminate some degree of self-loathing via personal growth. I can actually pinpoint milestone moments and epiphanies. I consider the last year of my life, in that regard, a smashing success.

Why, then, was I sitting a year later at the same kitchen table crying over an equally lengthy bullet-point analysis? How successful is that? Where did these additional Things that Suck come from?

…Again, I am a “Harsh Critic.”

Of other people, yes, but most of all myself. I tried to remember the last time I felt really awesome about anything I had said, written, or done… and quickly I was left questioning how “awesome” anything I ever did really was…

I am my own worst enemy. I know I am not alone, either. Lots of people in the world are insecure. Lots of people think everything they do is garbage. And, most importantly, lots of people are absolutely sure that they will never be good enough. Good enough for what? It honestly doesn’t matter. It’s an insatiability. The feeling that there is room for improvement. It goes beyond “positive quality” or “detrimental trait.” It’s human. It’s a civil war of the ego, and it’s nothing unique to any of us.

If none of us ever felt like monumental failures, would we be motivated to progress? If we all walked around, confident in how we look, act, and present ourselves; confident that we were always in the right; confident that everything we did was top-notch– what encouragement would we have to improve?

At the end of the day, it became evident that although my “Things that suck about you” list was nearly double the length of the “Good Qualities,” many of these divergent characteristics were rooted in the same damn personality traits. It’s unfair to myself to count “conversationally dominant” and “doesn’t know when to shut up” as two separate negative qualities, while considering “easily social” as something I like. They represent the exact same characteristic displaying itself in different contexts.

Failure, success, perfection, hard work. All relatively defined terms. In our universe void of inertia, none of these words mean the same thing from one moment to the next. Weighing ourselves against these slippery terms is like attempting to measure love in yards.

Not to say there is no room for self-improvement, but, in the scheme of things, I have taken enormous strides toward becoming the person I want to be. The next evening, feeling a little less depressed, I sat down and, instead of creating contrast, I re-composed the exact same list of characteristics into one list titled “Things I Know about Kat”

[[Nice rack is still on there]]

Once upon a time, our country experienced a depression so great that the middle class disappeared entirely. People stood in line for hours to procure moldy bread and meats. Children shared bathwater, people mended their socks, and hovels became coveted homes. The opulent lifestyles of the wealthy shone like homing beacons in the midst of the unwashed masses.

In modern America, not quite a century removed from these desperate times, we find our country in a much different mindset. The end of the second world war, and the years of fear-fueled war economics that followed, seemed to relieve America of it’s “depression.” The government injected the market with occupational programs, social services, and military-related vocations. Women were not only common in the workplace, but now expected to be there: half due to necessity, half due to the social push for independence.

Two working parents meant that people could now afford toasters, televisions, and cars– the middle class was experiencing a heyday unlike any generation before them. Disposability became a mainstay of our culture– single serving dinners, disposable diapers, and plastic ballpoint pens. An entire generation was raised on processed foods, aerosol hairsprays, and prenatal vitamins that caused deformities, as this country strove to be at the forefront of a cultural evolution. They were told that new was best, fast was convenient, and concerns were for “squares. ”

This generation, although instilled with a sense of disposability, maintained some of the previous generation’s sentiments. They had seen their parents clipping coupons, saving pennies, and creating nest-eggs. They had been warned, by those who had lived it, of a time when people fought rats for food. This was Gen X.

As this segment came of age, in the seventies and eighties, they rebelled against society, then embraced it. They hated their possessions, then fell in love with them. They were told they could feel how they wanted to feel, and damned if they weren’t feeling angry! At what? Their parents? Cultural expectations? Global unrest? It didn’t matter. This generation felt it was their right and duty to be expressive.

As Gen X begat Gen Y, a new era of entitlement was born. Since the days of their youth when Gen X had first “stuck it to the man,” many of them had become “the man.” They put in their 40+ hours a week, ingrained with the promise that this was the formula for success. Gen X wanted, more than anything, to spare their children the faux pas social struggles, and the fear of the past.

Gen X promised Gen Y a better world.

The result of this promise has been a twisted sense of entitlement to that world, and a whole generation left dazed by reality. I know I am not the only one feeling slighted.

It was all there, in every message our school teachers delivered us, that we could be anything we wanted to be. That we were all very full of potential, and that hard work alone was the key to unlocking our dreams. It was all there in every feel-good self-esteem-boosting book, poster, and mantra: the world was our oyster. There was even a roadmap– graduate high school, go to college, get a good job in our chosen fields. We could, then, feel professionally satisfied; could then live the comfortable lifestyles we had always known.

All we had to worry about was “being true to yourself,” making friends, and the pursuit of happiness. My generation invented MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, massive multiplayer online games, and YouTube. Being popular doesn’t even involve leaving your computer– which, by the way, now fits in your pocket. Our social lives are infinitely more complex than any generation before us. We’re so cool!

But, in the meanwhile, the global marketplace has become saturated with goods– shipped from overseas– and it’s not only the manufacturing sector that’s become outsourced. America is only beginning to understand the true nature of economics, only now realizing that we are by no means immune to “depression.” Only now realizing that the diploma-mills which comprise most of our “higher education system” are producing well-educated waitstaffs and sales reps in a country that can’t employ more philosophers, journalists, or music theorists. It’s no wonder my generation is so damn frustrated. If we held out for the jobs we wanted, a vast majority would be unemployed.

I heard a statistic the other day that really hit home. The talking head on PBS informed me that 81% of college graduates last year graduated without a job offer. So I did a little research on the subject.

According the a 2009 Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 40% of graduating students who had applied for jobs received offers; less than 20% had secured a job for after graduation.  These statistics are contrary to everything we were told. So what do we do? Keep going back to school? According to this survey, that’s precisely what 26% of my peers are doing. Why? Because it’s “the next step,” obviously, and we take immense comfort in linear progression. Some of my contemporaries live with their parents well into their twenties. We like our hands held; we’ve been well-sheltered from anything dismal by cable television, pop music, and the illusion that we’re working with unlimited resources. According to these statistics, 41% of graduating seniors EXPECT to rely on their parent’s financial assistant after college. WHAT!? Well, I suppose someone has to carry the burden of our shattered expectation. We certainly weren’t prepared for this.

… Everything is going to be ok, right?

Only Speak in Pantomimes

September 9, 2010

All too often, I open my mouth and, instead of expressing the poignant conjecture which had only moments before occupied my brain, I find myself stranded in the Gobi Desert of sentences. I awkwardly twist, attempt at backtracking, and tangentially grab hold of any remaining shred of logic before I realize that my foot is now too far down my throat to say anything else.

In this way, I frequently embarrass myself, and have been known to confuse, berate, or offend others. I don’t intend to, quite the opposite, actually. My brand of honesty is just a little too honest. Like an obnoxious game show contestant, I share too much of the process and not enough well-developed thought. My emotions take charge of the rhetoric while my rational mind follows thisclose behind screaming “Stop talking! SHUT! UP!”

This is why I’m best in black and white. Letters, spaces, and punctuation. Structured sentences and fully-formed theses. My mental processes require stringent editing– I need to be cut, deleted, and re-evaluated before I can be taken seriously. And, even then,  my intentions come across botched, at best.

Language is our species’ blessing and curse. It helps us understand, and just as often misunderstand, one another. it can be literal or ambiguous, sarcastic or dead serious. Unlike much of the animal kingdom, our “language” is not based soley in brain chemicals, hormones, or singly interpretive waves. Our methodology is so convoluted, even “yes” and “no”  become interchangeable.

People crave communication. Contact with others keeps our reality consistent. We find comfort in shared experience: if the sky appeared crimson to you, basic instinct would be to seek a second opinion. We just want to be sure we’re all on the same page, or at least still in the same book.

In my human scramble to ensure a cohesive reality, I find myself sharing thoughts that aren’t quite thoughts at all. I express my perception of things as facts when, in reality, I can be rather presumptuous; occasionally all-together wrong.

Knowing this about myself, I will sometimes go so far as to rehearse even a minor monologue aloud before it’s delivery. But in the end, without fail, I say too much. I elaborate some trivial detail; drive home some irrelevant or questionably related point. I see my proverbial foot heading toward my mouth, recognize that I am about to make a fool of myself, and then proceed to either continue making things awkward or flail about wildly making conclusions that sound more like accusations.

I have a fear of the things people find “between the lines” during dialogue, so I fill that space with nonsense. I’m discovering, however, that there is truly greater value in conversational minimalism. Something about the mystery.

This is what I find most encouraging about the writing trades: they allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence. They also allow lunatics to seem saner than sane. [[WampetersFomaAndGranfalloons.KurtVonnegut]]